Molly is a 51-year-old mother who lives with her daughter, Karen, age 8, in an all-season cottage on an upscale but remote lake in Cottage County. Her two older sons, Joe age 22 and Dennis age 20, left home about a year ago to work with their father in [a city]. She is a personal support worker. I have known Molly for many years and requested this interview to get her perspective, as a parent who has struggled, on some of the early intervention recommendations I was considering. I indicated when I set up that appointment that I was interested in exploring paradigmatic change. Molly describes eloquently and in detail how social exclusion / differentiation / inclusion operates in a small community, in her experience, and suggests a number of interventions to encourage earlier and easier recognition of what individuals have in common that would support their differences being used to mutual benefit.
Molly: [I'd like to start by saying] that if you make it at all, you have to re-invent yourself to succeed in your own life. It’s like you re-write your script. So that same idea that the powers that be set the standard - no; you have to set your own standard, measure yourself by that. Because you’d have been measuring yourself by a standard that doesn’t fit you. So you find you have to stop calling yourself poor, stop calling yourself a failure, and that you won’t make it. And when you do that, you see new alternatives. Because if you look back and see that you’re not the person you thought you were, then possibly your future is going to be different.
FM: An excellent perspective to bring to this. So… one of the things I’ve learned from the data so far is that formal interventions, institutions, are not at all good at ‘fixing’ problems when they find them. Often they make them worse, or make them equally bad but in a different way. Think CAS as a clear example: it intervenes in what is admittedly a bad situation, but often it maybe makes it worse by adding an additional stress, or stigma, and hardly ever does it provide to the child the life they believe the child was entitled to, which gave them permission to intervene. But same also with school, where school is supposed to give every kid a chance to better themselves, but in fact, often the ‘good’ kids or kids from ‘good ‘ families are the ones who improve, and the ‘bad’ kids gets worse. So I’m wanting to suggest some fairly radical ways of thinking about how really to organize rural life so that every kid has a chance to arrive at end of high school able to make a real choice about staying where they were raised or going away to an urban centre, or going away and returning, and being successful no matter which choice they make.
FM: So two parts: Being ready to make a choice when the time comes, and secondly, having the resources to implement that choice with a good chance of success.
FM: So I wondered if what we could talk about is your opinion, your perspective and point of view as a mother of a young child – the age at which we’d think about ‘early intervention’ – but also the mother of older children who have been through or are in that choice-making, choice-implementing phase. So maybe we could start with you saying for the record the details of your family, who they are, how you support the family, what you do, etc.
For 18 years, I’ve single parented, first with my eldest [Joe] who was four, the younger [Dennis] was two, both boys. Raised those on my own until they left home, both of them older, probably 19-20 before either of them was ready or willing to go. And almost nine years ago, an addition, my daughter Karen, came into my life. The boys were still home, so actually I’ve been on my own with Karen for about a year.
FM: And what kind of work do you do?
I’m a personal support worker.
FM: I’ve got a couple of other youth who were in that line of work in this data, and both of them had difficulty making enough money to in one case, support herself as a single person, and in the other to contribute enough to the family income.
In the health care field, it’s the lowest on the pay grid. Housecleaners and cooks and the laundry service in a hospital all get paid more. And not only that, you don’t have the incentive to stay in the system because your pay raise only gets to a certain point and you don’t get more, so people try to move up by either getting more education or moving into a new position. And it’s important to note that in order to get the training to do that job, you have to leave the community. I was lucky that I was able to get it locally, but they only offered it that one time.
On the other hand, being a single parent makes us rather good at doing what we do. I do home care. You go in with a non-judgmental attitude because you know how a person feels needing assistance, so you bring that into the work and it breaks down barriers. I’m famous for shopping; lots of the organizations don’t shop but we do, and I know how to shop on a budget. So when I’m away, my people ask after me because I stretch their money better.
And you know, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t allow somebody to take my money and shop for me. I’d really really have a problem with that. But still we ask other people to trust us.
FM: And it’s hard to criticize a helper.
Yes, it is.
FM: Okay. Tell us a little bit more about what the boys are doing and their migration decisions.
Actually, both of the boys work for their father now. He is in construction and I think they work at a fairly small business but it’s a scale that they can manage. Dennis went to school to take construction technique and stuff like that; that’s what he wants to do. Joe is there because he needs a job; it’s not his choice, not what he’d like to do.
FM: What would he like to do?
I’m not sure if I should say this. He would like to grow medical marijuana and has actually looked into it. He’s looked into it at some length; he’s talked to the government about it. What frightened him about it was the amount of security that would be necessary to do it safely. He thought that would put him and other people at risk to do that, so that put him off. He was actually interested in a local growing job (not marijuana) that was looking at new approaches to growing things, but when he applied they said they’d already hired.
This [interest] happened because I grow things, plants and vegetables and things, and when Joe was younger he attempted to grow some little plants and it was a disaster. I said to him, you can’t handle them like that, so I taught him, and he got some understanding, and he took over my flowers and my garden. I think that’s his thing, he’d be good at that. I think he came across it by chance but discovered that he has a gift for it. I think if he was pointed in the right direction, that’s the way he’d go, but he hasn’t found anyone who’s made that connection for him.
FM: You’re saying that a mentor is essential?
Definitely. Dennis took a course in the high school where they teach them all kinds of practical skills, and that was really useful. He really enjoyed that; you get credits, you get volunteer hours and all the things you need to quality [for work]. And you’re exposed to all sorts of things and you discover what you like and you don’t like. He learned he liked nature, natural things, wood and stuff like that – really learned about himself. He enjoyed it.
FM: Is it fair to say that you would support the findings of this guy who was an Atkinson researcher, a journalist on one-year assignment to look at youth employment, and he said that co-ops were the very best way of kids deciding what they wanted to do, because they experienced the work in context, and with the kind of people who would be their world if they did that kind of work.
Definitely. We’ve had students with us (at work) and I find that really really good. We had one young girl we adored: we liked her, the clients liked her, and she’s off in Littletown working at a long term care facility. She didn’t have a lot of confidence; she came from a bad situation. Don’t know if she had two parents but her father had depression and eventually killed himself and even her co-op teacher didn’t expect her to amount to much. I think a co-worker and I ended up taking on the role of being her mentor. And on two occasions, her co-op teacher would come to see how she was doing her job, was she where she was supposed to be, doing what she was supposed to be doing. We weren’t very cooperative with the co-op teacher, because she doesn’t have the right to be popping into client’s homes, she doesn’t get to ask the client how her student is doing: it’s inappropriate but this is what she wanted to do. We told her no, her student is never unsupervised, never in the home alone, that’s our policy, and in fact she was doing great and the clients adored her, and I think that went a long way for her.
FM: So two important aspects: one, being ‘at her back’, and two, standing up for her to authority, probably things that hadn’t been available to her before.
It makes a difference.
FM: Yeah. One of the things I want to recommend – to start at the beginning, is that in a small community, where you know something about everybody, like you knew about the family situation of this girl, we know who is not likely to have, within their own resources, what is needed to be successful re [migration] choice and implementation. And we know that the systems are likely to also not be helpful, because they’ve already decided what the kid is all about. So what I’d like to recommend is that we routinely assess every kids at an early age, maybe entry to school, re whether they have the things we know they will need in order to succeed, and that we then develop a to-do list for each kid that addresses those gaps through ‘neighbouring’, through community, organized but personalized connections. Like you and your colleague for this young girl. But even, say grade 1 where they hook a student up with a reading helper, hooking students up with say someone to, I dunno, hang out after school once a week and help prepare supper and eat with the host family. I dunno if that’s the right specific, but it’s providing the child an opportunity to experience -
Who is the host family?
FM: The host family would be like you and your colleague? Only writ earlier in life. So if that kid were Karen, it would be the Smith family, maybe, whose daughter is in Karena’s grade, and on Thursdays, Karen comes to their house for dinner and they go to something, some kind of ‘cultural’ experience that Karen wouldn’t otherwise get. So she’d borrow that family for that experience. Could you see something like that working?
Yeah. When I was a kid in England my sister was three years older - maybe it didn’t happen with my younger sisters. But she would take me to an art class after school. And there was a Tuesday night movie night at the school, and we’d take our little bit of spending money to the movie. Also meant I could go to my grandmother’s with my sister. She would curl my hair. It was a big deal.
When Dennis got a girlfriend whose family was in a better situation than he was, he wanted to be a part of that and his girlfriend didn’t really believe that he had the motivation and the ambition to measure up. He was invited to go to Florida with them, which was a huge deal in his life. My boys have never been on vacation, I couldn’t afford it, so they’ve never been anywhere. So he did go, and later on when he was expressing this concern that his girlfriend told him he didn’t have ambition - he’s really laid back - I told him that was different than not having ambition. He said he needed proof. I said you went to Florida on your own steam. You had to have your own money to go, to stay there, entertainment, had to have a passport. You had none of those things but you got those things and you went. You’ve always been like that; if you want something you pave the way and you go. That’s ambition. He said’ okay’.
So then a bit further down the road, she didn’t want him to be sitting around watching TV all the time so Dennis got a job. The job he had didn’t give him any hours, he’d ask, no hours, no hours. So he got another job, the very same day he dropped in with his resume. He was a dishwasher, he didn’t care, it was what was wanted. He worked steady at that job, and when the season was ending, he got another job before he left the first job.
While he was working, his girlfriend’s parents went on holidays again, leaving him to look after their place. He proved himself to be responsible and a good caretaker. Her brother partied and broke things and got kicked out of the house later. Dennis fixed things [that were broken] and brought food, and her dad recognized that and reimbursed him for any expenses. The girlfriend is planning to go off to school so they’re expecting Dennis to go to school. I’ve always told Dennis he can go to school, he can get OSAP, he doesn’t have to have parents with money. And that’s what they think too, that their kids should pay their way through school. So Dennis started looking to see what he wanted to do. Found a few possibilities, got the application, and with my help and his girlfriend’s mother’s help, he got the application in and got accepted. So that was a whole learning experience. He did all the stuff on the computer, the application, OSAP, residence. He decided he wanted to live in residence, didn’t want to live on his own in a new city, so he got help with that.
We’ve always discussed money. I think your kids should be aware of what things cost, not just the value of things, but what day-to-day expenses are, because I don’t think kids get that. They think they want to get a car, but they don’t realize the expense of meals, a roof over your head, warmth, entertainment -- they have to look at that and then they can decide what they want to do. That’s what Dennis and I did: he saved his money. There were times he’d call and say can you pick me up [from the grocery store] because he’d hitchhike to save money, even if he had a lot of groceries because they were a good buy. When we’d shop, I’d show him how to read the unit price so as to get the best deal.
He didn’t think he knew what a budget was, but he was already budgeting: you decide how much you can afford to spend, how much you need to not spend, and then you stick to it: that’s a budget.
So the next thing he did – he’d already done this – he made an appointment at the bank and talked to them, opened an account, got his own credit card. He wanted to save money, put money aside. They told him he could have a student line of credit but he already had OSAP. And he was very strict with the credit card; used it when he needed to but paid it off, didn’t like carrying a balance.
But I have to say, he’s good at money. I started them both with bank accounts when they turned seven. Joe liked spending money; Dennis liked seeing the numbers on the page. Karen has a banking account. She doesn’t understand money yet, but she had enough money to buy a Monster High Doll (the latest thing). What she didn’t understand was she thought after she bought the doll, I’d give her back the money. But she still has money in the account.
FM: Do you think her not understanding is age, or is a particular challenge for her?
It might be a learning challenge; she has a challenge around math and language, so it might be that. She’s eight.
My idea was not that they understand [money right away]. When we [were kids, we] set up bank accounts at school, every Thursday or whatever you’d bring your pennies in and they’d put it in the account and write it in the book. I think that’s a good thing to do, so when my kids reached a certain age, I made sure they had their own bank account. They begin to get the idea that you just don’t go to the machine to get money out; they really don’t know where this magical money comes from, or that it takes money to get food off the shelf. Because in a perfect world, there should be a supply for what they need, and kids know this.
FM: Okay, so that kind of experience might be something that other-than-family could do with a child. Let me talk about the school system generally – what I’m gonna recommend is that ‘extracurricular’ activities be made curricular, that they be beefed up significantly, that they be universally available, mandatory, and include everything that we know that kids need to be prepared to be comfortable in an urban environment – maybe not comfortable, but at least not gob-smacked, at least familiar enough to –
So then should they not spend time in an urban environment as part of their education?
FM: I think so; do you?
Yeah. They talk about field trips to Ottawa or whatever. They’re great. They’re one-offs. Parents have to pay for them – that’s an issue, not everyone gets to go. So a day trip, you get on the bus, you go to the mall, maybe, or you visit another school. Different life style things, like recreation centres, you show them what they do.
It’s like making connections. One of the things my mom thinks is that if you move to a community, you go to church and the church begins to make connections for you. So I think it doesn’t need to be church, but something. So you’d go to wherever it is in that community that gets it together, or that is the heart of that community.
It’s where the information is; where the people are. And if kids get the experience of doing that, no matter where they’re from, the first thought is they’ll go to the community or whatever and get the help they need. They get used to thinking there is a go-to place.
Dennis went to school because there is a residence – a community, a roof over his head, a kitchen – he knew these basic needs would be met. So to face a new world and not even know where you’re going to stay is going to be really intimidating, just the thought of it.
FM: Okay, but I also hear you talking about a kind of social training in understanding community and understanding how to become part of a community.
FM: Lemme ask, if someone came to this community, where would they find that?
I don’t think it’s that easy in this community. I think it’s extremely difficult. There are only a few options available. This community is cliquey and even in those places where you try to be a part of something, you’ll not necessarily be welcome to join in.
When we moved here, one of the older members of the community said we wouldn’t be part of here until you’ve been here three years. And sometimes people say “And not even then!” Because first you have to make it – and people don’t consider that they’re part of you making it. Absolutely they don’t.
FM: Now do you think that operates differently in a rural community generally, or is this just our community?
I think it’s all communities; cities have their version. It’s the classes. There has always been a need for people to set themselves apart and keep people down so they don’t feel threatened about what they’ve got. So they find ways to make that happen.
FM: So you’re saying that communities naturally put people ‘in their place’ -
Yes, they’re protecting their own.
FM: So how, then, would people embrace helping a kid from a not-them family be more like them? Why would people – or would they? – embrace giving a kid a chance, if there is a chance that that kid would then outshine theirs, or take something that ‘rightfully’ belonged –
Because they wouldn’t embrace somebody and take a chance. And the kid that’s not like them wouldn’t also want to be like them. They pick up on that distaste and build their own little armor around it, being street smart. That sets them up for trouble: they’re the ones who know their way around, which puts them at risk. They’re reinforcing the judgment they receive from other people, they’re risking the probability that others in the future will hire them. So it’s a real danger.
FM: Lemme say, then, that I hear you saying that it is inevitable that the rich will get richer and the -
Yes, get rich and stay with the rich, do all the things that they can do. The boys will play hockey, the girls will take dance. And the others will get good at knowing their way around the block, get street smart. Because it’s a fact that in our community every kid knows every other kid, so if your kid plays hockey they know every other kid that plays hockey and every other family whose kid plays hockey. And if your kid smokes pot, she or he knows every other kid who smokes pot, knows their families, knows them well.
FM: So this is called homogamy, the big word for birds of a feather flock together. But you just told me about Dennis basically getting ‘adopted’ by his girlfriend’s family who were of the ‘other sort’. So how did he bridge that gap?
He got invited to a party at their house. He asked me to take him there. And actually I was quite reluctant to leave him there because it was an up-scale home. So basically, his girlfriend picked him. I say because he obviously had attributes that got her attention. She phoned him up, asked him to her party. When he got there he learned there were a few girls and they all had designs on him. To clarify, the girlfriend wanted to be with the ‘bad girls’, so she had had ‘bad boyfriends’ and because Dennis and his brother smoke pot, he’s in the bad world but not a bad kid in himself. So [that combination] makes him quite desirable. Not to mention the fact that she had boyfriends that stole from their family and stuff, so all of a sudden this bad boy, they loved him. She picked him up and dropped him and wanted to play the field, but even then they remained friends. He told me that at one point her mom told her that was what she was doing, at some point he would get tired of that [treatment] and drop her. At some point she had to catch up [with him]; she dropped out of school twice, owed her parents OSAP, lost her boyfriend, and grew up.
FM: So they’re not together now?
Oh yes, they are. They live together. She grew up, applied to a school where Dennis was living and working, found them an apartment, got the rent, moved them in. Dennis pays the rent. She graduated 98% or something and now she’s looking for a job. She got [herself] on board and her parents are delighted.
FM: Okay, so this was both young people crossing the line between the two solitudes to their mutual benefit.
Definitely. They both are best friends and probably will always be. So communication is really really good, and they both learned they had something to learn about life. So even as young as they are, they’ve come a long way.
FM: We know what she learned, you called it growing up; what did Dennis learn?
He learned that instead of being that laid-back, lacking-in-ambition kid that wasn’t going to go anywhere, he learned he was quite an insightful person who could take care of things, take care of himself, he was capable and he was worthy. Grew from being the guy chosen by the girl to the guy who knows that he’s worthy of the girl.
FM: And deciding if she’s worthy of him, actually. What impact, do you think, that her family had on him, apart from her?
I think – I would imagine that they had a very positive impact, even if it was not overly involved. I was raised in a single-parent family; we moved to [a town] when my mom was with my step-father, who then left. Much to our surprise we were in a community who were more in line with Dennis’s girlfriend’s world. So I had a boyfriend who went to college. We partied like my kids partied but they all intended to go to college. And I didn’t think I would go, my mom said we didn’t have money. My boyfriend brought me applications, my mom helped me fill them in, and I went to school on grants. I chose a school away from home – I did it because my boyfriend thought I could and he bullied me but I never regret going to school; it was one of the best times I had. So I felt that when Dennis had that [kind of] influence, it was good.
So that’s what I mean by reinventing yourself.
FM: Okay, so we’re talking about sort of the same thing, somehow getting entry into a world that is not-you and using the resources of that world to become a new you.
I think, though, when you were talking about how these communities, the haves and have-nots, remaining separate. You have to start really early to find out how we are more alike than different. You’re going to be part of that world because you’re like them, you just started out differently. So if we started out early getting kids to see how we are alike, there’s not so many barriers when we get older.
FM: Okay, so the beefed up, mandatory, school-related cultural experiences would go some way to creating the conditions under which that would happen.
Yeah, you’ve got to change the language, not [talk] about changing cultural differences because by calling it a difference, you’ve already said it’s something else. So by coming from another angle, finding out how people are alike, you’ve got a connection that people can grow on.
Because the fact is it isn’t just that Dennis got into a world where he was acceptable to his girlfriend, it was that what they had learned was that their parents’ lives were not their lives. Because she had to learn that what [her parents had were not hers automatically, that she had to work to make her own life.] I know it’s very judgmental on my part to judge rich kids but they do tend to think that their parents’ money is their money, they do [believe] that they bring that with them. Kids from poor families don’t bring that with them, and they don’t appreciate rich kids bringing something that they don’t have to put on the table.
FM: So if material differences were somehow left out of -
Or measured in a different way. You know, the story about the bank accounts. Say if the kids have bank accounts or businesses set up at school that they manage, and parents say here’s your $5 because they can, and someone else doesn’t because they can’t. Then if it does come from home, it doesn’t matter. The school could provide opportunity for youth to earn that $5, say being a lunch buddy, whatever is helpful and to show that it is valued, so that kids could choose to get their $5 that way, even if the parents could give it to them. Plus they may be getting it from home as allowance for doing something, so it still had value.
And the kids are discovering that they are capable of contributing to something, being part of something, and saving. So they’re learning something that they need to do in the future: we have adults running around not knowing how to manage money, not just a few kids. And parents need to understand that. They tend to think it’s not the kids’ business how much they make, they think it’s some private thing, and it shouldn’t be.
FM: Okay, lots of stuff here. I want to pull out the central importance of being fiscally literate...
Because it shouldn’t be about wealth, about things, about what you’ve got. It should be about your ability to take care of yourself, to support each other. Because if they’re learning about being a helper, a buddy at school, that’s supporting, and when those younger kids are managing their bit of money, the older kids can help. So it becomes a common [shared] thing.
FM: And it gives value to what people do, rather than what they have.
FM: So that might be called education for citizenship.
FM: And some of the youth in this research have talked about extracurricular activities being a way of them finding out who they are, what they’re good at, who they get along with, share interests with -- all that stuff that has been pretty narrowly available since the school system skinnied down extracurricular activities. Since everybody got out of the business, actually. One of the kids said if you weren’t competitive, there was nothing to do because all of extra-curricular was sports teams where you had to good, competitively good, and not everybody is, not everybody wants to be.
And being competitive is not necessarily healthy, either.
FM: Particularly not if that’s what everybody in the society is into. You get to dog eat dog really quickly
It’s horrible. It fosters all of this aggression.
FM: And I think extra-curricular has become a class short-hand; rich kids have it and poor kids don’t, but it parades as if it is based on merit.
So where did that come from?
FM: Very good question. I feel sure that we abandoned the goal of making our kids good citizens about 1980 or so, when we – the Harris era -- when we took all the ‘cultural’ stuff out of the curriculum and began introducing user pay to what had previously been publicly supported. And made citizens into consumers, at all levels, and government became business.
Everything has become business, consumers; they even use the language in the health system. When I go to see my doctor, I’m not her customer.
FM: But you are counted in terms of money, X ‘customers’ becomes Y budget.
Exactly. And how much of her time and resources have I consumed. Definitely. So because we live in that society, we have a monetary system, a setup that kids aren’t going to break because it’s not that easy. They have to understand what’s valuable in that system and making decisions based on that. And recognizing when a bad choice is a bad choice.
So if you’re growing up and feeling there are a lot of flaws in our system -- and there are -- you can’t live off the grid because there are a lot of dangers in that way, and not a future. Because not being a citizen, not being a consumer, not being involved, means you’re not recognized. You may think you’re hiding [from government] but when you need that system, it’s not there for you – there’s no health care, no pension. You get the kids to look at ‘I can cheat the government’ because it looks quick and easy, so you avoid the stress of that kind of risk for a long-term goal that says that if you establish yourself, then you become a known and involved member of the community and you become someone who they recognize as a contributing person and they’ll be there for you, and it’s there on paper. So all of those things come back to learning about that monetary thing. It’s all part about self-care and caring for others, we all put into that pot and it’s there when we need it.
FM: So I’m hearing you say that because we live in a very materialistic world where money is king, we need to start teaching our kids how money works right from the giddy-up,
And not about things. Money isn’t about getting fast cars and big boats and big houses and status to show everybody what you’ve got, it’s actually about making the world work. If we all stop, the world stops. So instead of looking at it like it’s a gigantic power that’s over you, it’s that we’re all part of it, that without us it doesn’t exist, it grinds to a halt. So now, it doesn’t matter where your parents came from because you’re individuals, and if you’re going to do your bit to keep this thing moving and he’s doing his bit to keep the thing moving, you’re equal.
I went to the bank, had a meeting, we’re talking about the kids. She did this great thing, printed up this page and said take it to your kids. I did. [It showed how if] they put away $25/month, put it in the bank every month, then ask them when they’re 50, 80, whatever age they choose, how much money do they think they have in the bank? My kids just about fell on the floor. Dennis was all over it. Joe took it to his father and grandfather who told him it was all wrong. I explained that the reason why dad and grandfather thought it wrong was that they don’t know this; they thought that if you cheat the system, then you’re winning, but in fact you’re cheating yourself.
FM: So cheating the system in their case was, what? Not paying taxes?
Not paying taxes. Not contributing in the right way, so all of a sudden you don’t get that far ahead, you’ve got nothing in place. You’re assuming that everything will be as it is now, which it never is, and you have no way of being prepared for when something happens. That preparing for a rainy day.
FM: So I think I could safely say that you would agree to:
- Early universally mandatory financial literacy
- Opportunity to learn what money is and how it works; what gets money, what is valued enough that money is given for it; also what money buys – differentiating between value – things that are crucial for survival – and status.
Because I had a chance to sit back and look at my life in a different way after my husband and I split up, learned meditation and that. You learn there is value in what you are doing today. When you learn how to do that, it’s not a skill you lose. So you can become a part of that monetary world and contribute to it, but you’re the one choosing where the value is. So I don’t care that I don’t have a boat to speed around on the lake; I do care that I can look out and see the trees. So you learn to recognize the difference between needs and wants, and they are different. And kids need to understand the difference between needs and wants.
[Discussion about me at a prior time using the word poor to mean spending too much time taking care of necessities rather than having the time to be who you are, which she had found useful.]
FM: How do you think we could teach kids this way of thinking – meditation, or some mechanism for analyzing value in life – if they don’t learn it at home?
They need to be taught how to develop insight, critical thinking. One of the things I got out of meditation -- it took time to get -- wasn’t just [how] to be calm and peaceful, but it was that your thoughts are not facts. So if you come from a poor family and you’re not given a lot of opportunity and you feel that you’re being ostracized or judged, or you’re judging yourself in that way, that can be thought and not necessarily fact. So you have to challenge your own thoughts before you challenge another’s. So first you say is that thought accurate, and if it’s not you have to change the thought. So when you learn to be a critical thinker, you get in the habit of thinking more carefully in the future. So you’re less likely to default, saying poor old me, or if you do, you don’t have to stay there. It’s like people use computers but don’t know much about it, we use our brain but don’t know much about it, so it’s about learning about our operating system, and I don’t see why that can’t be part of the education system. Part of curriculum.
FM: I agree.
It’s like there’s things we take for granted. Here’s a joke from my sister: she says How many adults have you met who have not been successfully weaned, toilet trained, etc? [It points out that] we obsess about these things when there is really no real need, it’s just faulty thinking.
It’s not about positive thinking, it’s about real thinking. And giving value to real thinking. Those kids (participants who said they didn’t regret difficult stuff because it made them who they were) gave you real thinking.
And if kids came from a life of real opportunity, they could be in real trouble if they don’t know how to think about it. So if we can learn to be more critical thinkers and have more insight into ourselves, we’ll start measuring things differently. And valuing the truth: because if we can’t start with the truth, we can’t get anywhere.
FM: So then, there is probably some value in what I’m planning to do with this research, which is to say there are some very different sub-groups within it, I’m toying with ‘challenged’ vs ‘good to go’, and then there are kids who should be in one group based on their history but who are on their way to another – both directions, including as you referenced just now, the privileged kids who lose their way because qualities – status - that belonged to their families they thought belonged to them. And there’ll be resistance to this -
FM: But you’d say essential to start there, right?
FM: Because the advisory ctte is mostly senior bureaucrats in areas that serve youth, and I recruited them because without them, I didn’t have the status to get this research grant. But they wanted me to focus on kids who are ‘insecurely housed’ which I agreed to readily because I think most kids in this stage of life are insecurely housed – but I wanted to also include the middle-class kids who should have it easy. And none of them have. So I’m in a position to say the system doesn’t work well even for the kids who presumably it was made for, and the ones who don’t have the foundation are pretty much screwed.
I think because of technology the world has changed and the education system has to change. The [youth are the] ones who are going to use the technology, and they are going to be so far beyond us. The fact is that all kids can hook into the technical knowledge, they can find the information. So they know they’re screwed; parents can’t hide it from them. Or the school can’t white-wash it. So in that way the kids are all the same. Not a difference for the rich vs the non-rich.
[Scribing discontinued at this point as we prepared for Molly to go to meet the school bus.]